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The Atlantic Monthly | April 2001
The Kiss of Judas

by Alicia Ostriker
audioear pictureHear Alicia Ostriker read this poem (in RealAudio)

Among many, one panel:
Perhaps it catches the eye
Owing to its symmetry
Or its subject, betrayal.

Giotto is simple.
What does "simple" mean?
Soldiers, torches, a friendship,
Money, a kiss.

Two profiles: One looks upward,
Lips protrude with intention,
Brow slightly frowns.
And one receptive, brunette,

Eyes almost Byzantine,
Grave if not solemn,
His neck remains bare
To show absence of fear.

Judas wears a cloak
To reveal that he's hidden.
His embrace also hides
The other man's body.

Could Judas wish to become
Joined with his Lord's body?
Giotto has painted him
Like almost everyone else

In the Scrovegni Chapel,
Slightly rounded, short,
Not too far from being
A dog or a bird.

Isn't it hard, though, to leave?
Pope Leo liked them. We, too,
Those tender Giotto blues,
Those rose tints, those ash greens.

We were never in a church
More comforting than this one.
Imagine if women's wombs
Had paintings like this one.

All of us would be born
Wise and good, then.

Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved. The Atlantic Monthly; April 2001; The Kiss of Judas - 01.04; Volume 287, No. 4; page 81.